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John Ringling: Art Collector

The Ringling Art Library

Weeks, David. Ringling: The Florida Years, 1911-1936. University Press of Florida, 1993.

  • This book is considered by many to be the most authoritative and in-depth John Ringling biography. Weeks focuses on Ringling’s accomplishments in Florida, from developing the islands around Sarasota Bay and building Ca’ d’Zan to rapidly amassing an extraordinary art collection and creating an unprecedented cultural legacy, among his many other notable endeavors during those years. Weeks dedicates an entire chapter to Ringling as a collector, in which he gives a brief history of the state of the art market during the 1920s, along with details of Ringling’s progression from newly rich buyer to experienced art collector. Weeks gives readers a clear, accurate portrait of John Ringling: circus magnate, capitalist, and art connoisseur.

Call Number: N 742 .S5 W44 1993

De Groft, Aaron H, and David C. Weeks. A Pictorial History of John and Mable Ringling. The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, 2003.

  • This books provides readers a brief, but enlightening, written history of the Ringlings’ lives, with emphasis given to their Sarasota years. The prose is accompanied by a series of pictures, which helps readers visualize what life was like for the Ringlings in the 1920s and 1930s. This book is an excellent precursor to lengthier, more detailed biographies on John Ringling.

Call Number: N 742 .S5 D44 2003

De Groft, Aaron H. John Ringling in Perpetua Memoria: The Legacy and Prestige of Art. 2000. Florida State University, PhD dissertation.

  • This publication is a study of John Ringling’s many notable endeavors, with a focus on his collecting. De Groft seeks to provide an interpretive, art historical account of Ringling’s collecting motives, and he places Ringling into historical context. He discusses Ringling’s relationship with Böhler—and other art dealers, collectors, and historians—his self-edification, why he wanted to build a museum, and the magnitude of his legacy. De Groft also discusses in detail the Rubens cartoons and some of Ringling’s other notable acquisitions.

Note: Full-text access to De Groft’s dissertation is also available on ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global.

Call Number: N 742 .S5 D44 2000

Meter, Amanda Ellen. John Ringling: Story of a Capitalist. 2009. Florida State University, MA Thesis.

  • Meter states that many scholars mention John Ringling as either Circus King or art collector, but not both; however, she astutely claims that the two personas are inextricably linked, and the focus of her thesis is on bringing those two personas together into the forefront. She examines the history of the American museum, Ringling as a collector and the significance of his collection, the opening of the Museum, and Ringling’s legacy, as well as many other important aspects of Ringling’s life and bequest.

Note: Full-text access to Meter’s thesis is also available on DigiNole: FSU’s Digital Repository.

Call Number: N 742 .S5 M47 2009

Buck, Patricia Ringling. The Ringling Legacy. Pat Ringling Buck, 1995.

  • Written by John Ringling’s great niece, this very accessible biography aims to answer the many questions Buck has been asked over the years about her relatives. Likely due to her relation to the Ringlings, Buck’s narrative is a uniquely fascinating take on John Ringling and his life in Sarasota, though she also focuses on Charles Ringling, as well. Particularly interesting are her chapters on John Ringling’s art collection, the museum, and the codicil he had added to his will shortly before his death, a decision that resulted in his entire estate being kept in probate for a decade.

Call Number: GV 1811 A1 B83 1995

Ormond, Mark, Aaron De Groft, and Gene Ray, editors. John Ringling, Dreamer – Builder – Collector. The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, 1996.

  • This collection of essays was published in conjunction with an exhibition of the same name, which was installed at The Ringling from January 19—December 28, 1997. Together the essays convey the story of John Ringling’s cultural vision for Sarasota, Florida, how he amassed such an impressive collection in just a few years, and of his extraordinarily unique Museum of Art. Each essay in the collection is valuable in its own way for understanding John Ringling’s legacy, but several are particularly useful for understanding Mr. Ringling as an art connoisseur and collector (For more information, see individual essay citations below).

Call Number: N742 .S5 J64 1996

De Groft, K. Lee. “In and Out of the Auction House: Collector to Connoisseur.” Ormond, De Groft, and Ray, pp. 56-71.

  • In this essay De Groft examines the progression of John Ringling’s interest in art from fledgling collector in the early twentieth century to well-seasoned connoisseur by the time of his death in 1936. He discusses how Ringling was a self-taught connoisseur; Ringling consulted art history books, auction catalogues, his close friends, and his business associates (i.e. Julius Bӧhler, Albert Keller, Sir Joseph Duveen, etc.). De Groft details some of Ringling’s greatest purchases and his strategies for securing said purchases.

Call Number: N742 .S5 J64 1996

Zafran, Eric M. “John and Lulu: The Newly Discovered Correspondence.” Ormond, De Groft, and Ray, pp. 43-55.

  • Julius Böhler, German art dealer, was a close friend of and advisor to John Ringling, and between the years 1925 and 1931, Böhler helped Ringling acquire over four hundred works of art. Böhler’s grandson bequeathed a box of previously unknown Böhler and Ringling correspondence and related materials to The Ringling in the mid-1990s, a bequest that revealed new information about their relationship. In this article, Zafran studies the correspondence and highlights just now integral their relationship was to Ringling’s interest in collecting art for his museum.

Call Number: N742 .S5 J64 1996

---. “A Collection of Baroque Masterpieces.” Ormond, De Groft, and Ray, pp. 72-79.

  • Zafran discusses John Ringling’s interest in Baroque art during a time when Ringling’s contemporaries were interested in collecting mostly Italian Renaissance art. He also highlights the fact that during the time Ringling was actively collecting, no other museum in America had a Baroque art collection as grandiose as Ringling’s. Zafran explores the significance and legacy of this particular collection.

Call Number: N742 .S5 J64 1996

Weeks, David. “The Dream Realized: The Building of the Museum.” Ormond, De Groft, and Ray, pp. 10-25.

  • This essay examines John Ringling’s process of realizing his dream to provide the people living in the southern United States the opportunity to study art without leaving the south, and to create a legacy for himself and his wife, Mable. Zafran explores different aspects of planning for the museum, from Ringling’s motivation to the many stages of John H. Phillips’ architectural plan, as well as all of the steps Ringling had to take in order to build and open such a grand cultural institution.

Call Number: N742 .S5 J64 1996

McKee, Linda R. “The Library: The Education of a Connoisseur.” Ormond, De Groft, and Ray, pp. 113-126.

  • As McKee notes in her essay, much about John Ringling as a collector can be ascertained from his personal library, which is located in The Ringling Art Library. Ringling’s library collection is remarkably comprehensive and can be seen as a testament to his passion for collecting; nearly 500 titles from his art book collection survive. McKee highlights some of the books in Ringling’s collection and documents the history and significance of his library.

Call Number: N742 .S5 J64 1996

Brilliant, Virginia. The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art. Scala in association with The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, 2011.

  • In this book, Brilliant celebrates John Ringling’s unprecedented collection of artwork and his philanthropic legacy. Brilliant highlights Ringling’s zeal for collecting, a venture that started shortly after he took on the project of building a Ritz Carlton hotel on Longboat Key off the coast of Sarasota. With her prose, Brilliant captures Ringling’s passion for collecting and vividly recounts the Museum’s early years of operation, as well as a brief history of some of Ringling’s most notable paintings and sculptures.

Call Number: N 742 .S5 B75 2011

Berry, David A. The Ringling: Visitor Guide. Scala Arts & Heritage Publishers, 2014.

  • This book is an informative introduction to both the original and contemporary John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art estate; Berry acquaints readers with Ca’ d’Zan, the Museum of Art, the Circus Museum, the Historic Asolo Theater, the Education Center, and the Bayfront Gardens. Berry also provides readers an exceptional assortment of photographs from various periods of The Ringling’s history, including photos of contemporary installations. Indeed The Ringling is a guide for visitors, but it also serves as a visual representation of The Ringling’s history and development, set in motion by John Ringling’s bequest.

Call Number: N 742 .S5 B47 2014

Merling, Mitchell. Ringling: The Art Museum. The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, 2002.

  • This book provides readers an introduction to The Ringling’s most notable paintings, sculptures, and other works of art, as well as examples from almost every collecting area of the Museum. Merling prefaces the catalogue with a history of the Ringlings and their extraordinary art collection. Some of the included collecting areas are “The Ancient World,” “The Renaissance in Northern Europe,” “The Renaissance in Venice and Northern Italy,” “Italian Baroque Art,” “Baroque Art in Flanders,” “Dutch Baroque Art,” “Neoclassicism and the Grand Tour,” and “The Nineteenth Century.”

Call Number: N 742 .S5 A84 2002

Janson, Anthony F. Great Paintings from the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art. The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, 1986.

  • This catalogue focuses on forty of the key baroque paintings in The Ringling collection, though there are sixty-three other notable paintings listed at the end. Each listing of the forty paintings is accompanied by a photograph, the title, attribution, date, and text of interpretive material, sometimes including a discussion of scholarly issues that may be important to understanding the artwork. Each listing is also accompanied by provenance, which is particularly useful, as readers can see which were part of John Ringling’s original bequest

Note: some attributions may have changed since this book’s publication; consult ­­­The Ringling’s online collections page for updated attributions.

Call Number: N 742 .S5 A84 1986

Buck, Patricia Ringling. The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art. Albion, 1988.

  • This book serves as an introduction for the general reader and Museum visitor to John Ringling and his cultural legacy. Buck discusses the Museum as a whole, but she also focuses on the collections—from Rubens and Italian baroque to Piero di Cosimo and the Cypriot antiquities—the architecture and artistry of the museum—from Ca’d’Zan and its ornamentation to the art galleries, courtyard, and entire structure—and John Ringling himself. There is also a printed excerpt from John Ringling’s will on the opening page, in which Ringling bequeaths the Museum to the State of Florida.

Call Number: N 742 .S5 B9 1988

De Groft, Aaron H. Ringling & Rubens: The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, the State Art Museum of Florida, Sarasota, Florida. The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, 2003.

  • The Triumph of the Eucharist, the Peter Paul Rubens series, is an integral part of The Ringling’s collection of Old Master paintings; in fact, this particular series influenced John Ringling’s design of the entire Museum of Art structure, as well as the scope of the art collection to be installed at the Museum. Understanding the historical and artistic significance of the massive paintings in The Triumph of the Eucharist series is vital to understanding John Ringling as a collector and his vision for the museum; this brief guide is a good introduction to the series.

Call Number: N 752 .S5 D44 2003

Brilliant, Virginia. Triumph & Taste: Peter Paul Rubens at the Ringling Museum of Art. Scala, 2011.

  • Brilliant states that for art enthusiasts all over the world, The Ringling has become synonymous with Rubens, which illustrates how important the Rubens paintings are in relation to the Museum. This book exhibits the most remarkable Rubens paintings in the Museum collection and Brilliant elucidates their meanings and functions, as well as their place within John Ringling’s vision. Brilliant also provides an appendix with provenance and bibliographic information on each of the Rubens works discussed in the publication.

Call Number: ND 673 .R9 B75 2011

---. “Taking it on Faith: John Ringling and the Gothic Room Collection.” Gothic Art in the Gilded Age: Medieval and Renaissance Treasures in the Gavel-Vanderbilt-Ringling Collection, edited by Virginia Brilliant, Gutenberg Periscope Publishing, 2009, pp. 36-51.

  • Part of a series of essays discussing the history of the Gavet-Vanderbilt-Ringling collection of Gothic art, this essay explores the progression of John Ringling’s interest in collecting works of art and how the Gothic Room Collection came into his ownership. Brilliant, former Ringling Museum of Art Curator of Collections, situates Ringling and his Museum in context with other industrialist-collectors and larger scale museums on the 1920s. Brilliant reveals how Ringling’s purchase of the Gothic Room Collection from Alva Vanderbilt helped him fulfill his and Mable’s dream of constituting a cultural legacy by opening an art museum.

Call Number: N 5201 .G68 2009

De Groft, Aaron H. Ca d’Zan: Inside the Ringling Mansion. The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, 2004.

  • This guide details the history of Ca’ d’Zan, the lavish mansion home of John and Mable Ringling. As their tastes and ambitions changed, John and Mable desired a more majestic home than their original Sarasota home, which led them to design and build a Venetian palazzo-style mansion. De Groft and Weeks do a great job of giving readers a descriptive tour of Ca’ d’Zan, highlighting that John and Mable also collected artistic masterpieces as decoration for their home, as well as for their museum.

Call Number: N 742 .S5 D44 2004

McCarty, Ronald R. Ca’ d’Zan: A Pictorial Guide. The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, 2018.

  • In this book, McCarty illuminates the history of Ca’ d’Zan, from its design and construction to the artwork and other furnishings that the Ringlings bought to adorn the magnificent rooms upon its completion.

Call Number: N742 .S5 A85 2018

Murray, Marian, editor. The Ringling Museums A Magnificent Gift to the State of Florida. The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, 1951.

  • This book is short, but enlightening; it provides readers with a brief background on the Museum of Art, Ca’ d’Zan, and the Circus Museum. Several short essays are included, all of which illuminate who John Ringling was as a collector, as well as how his legacy had been preserved in recent years; essays are written by A. Everett Austin, Jr. (Director of the Ringling Museums), Julius W. Boehler (John Ringling’s friend and advisor), and Gene Plowden (a Florida newspaperman and authority on the life of John Ringling).

Call Number: N7233 .C46 A4 1951

Robilant + Voena. A History of Taste: Collecting French & Italian Old Master Paintings for America. Robilant + Voena, 2010.

  • In her introductory essay to the catalogue publication, Virginia Brilliant explores the role Italian and French works of art played in early twentieth century collectors’ desire to bring the affluence of European culture to American audiences. While Brilliant discusses many key collectors not directly related to John Ringling and she only briefly touches on his collecting, most of the highlighted collectors were Ringling’s contemporaries; this is a valuable resource to consult if one wishes to situate Ringling in context with other Old Master collectors of the early twentieth century.

Call Number: ND 150 .R65 2010

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